Each week Megan Nicol Reed talks through what’s on all of our minds.

It was a terrible kind of a quiet. It was wonderful and it was fearsome, and I was impelled to fill that endless peace, those many silences, with such an industry. And that was good. That was why I was there; to be alone, to write. It was the country, and I at once loved it and was overcome by it.

That was how my week passed, the one before last, disturbed only by nature and an email from Levon. Levon, who as chance would have it, was having the reverse experience to mine. The flop to my flip. The country mouse to my town. She wrote: "I wonder how you would respond to my question after a stay in Auckland on the weekend, which left me a little battered and disheartened and reminded me of the Black Eyed Peas song Where is the Love?. Given, it was a wet Saturday when I visited the Sylvia Park Shopping Mall, and obviously many Aucklanders have nothing else to do on a wet day other than go shopping, but coming from a semi-rural area I couldn't get over how little regard so many appear to have for their fellow man, walking along as though with blinkers on, and in shops often outright pushy and rude. I am pretty agile and in my 40s so can only wonder how the elderly and less-mobile feel if they dare to venture out, which a few brave souls had done. Perhaps, though, I am out of touch with the 'modern real world' in a growing city? I did notice a few shop assistants genuinely seemed quite surprised when I thanked them for their assistance and wished them a 'good day' as is my usual custom."

Rudeness, dear Levon, is of course inexcusable. But you didn't write to me to be told that. I wonder, though, if what you read as discourtesy on the part of other shoppers wasn't just a different, and thus unfamiliar, way of being in the world. If what you experienced and were bothered by was simply a milder example of the dismay Westerners sometimes voice after being shoved about in the melee of what passes for a queue in Asia.

For us it is uncivilised, potentially frightening, for them it is just life, survival even.


I am aware I am venturing into cultural relativism here; the idea that we should always attempt to view, to understand, another's actions and beliefs in accordance with the culture that gave rise to them, which taken to its extreme implies we can never find another's customs wanting. And when applied to, say, Somalia's practice of female genital mutilation, is patently dangerous.

Quite possibly, Levon, you are thinking, what the hell! That Sylvia Park is a very long way from sub-Saharan Africa. But hear me out. Quite possibly you are right that Aucklanders are lacking in politesse. That less hustle, less bustle is better. But after my rural retreat I found myself missing the commonality of city life, the sense of all just rubbing along together. A feeling, I would add, I often enjoy at the mall. I say I like to be alone, that I am happy in my own company, but I realised what I like best is being alone in the midst of a heaving mass of humanity.

I don't disagree that cities can make us brusquer, but they can make us more tolerant, too.

Following on:

Penelope said she enjoyed the piece on parenting advice. It made her think of something the philosopher Bertrand Russell once said on the subject. That when he had no children he knew a lot about raising them, but once he'd had several he knew nothing at all.

Next week I thought I'd like to discuss choice. We have come to think of having choices in every part of our life, and in everything we do, as being our inalienable right. I fear, though, that rather than making us freer, the opposite is, in fact, true. If you have anything you'd like to say on the subject, please do write.